What can the U.S. usefully do in Syria?

Syria-alleged_poison_gas_attack

President Obama is asking Congress for authority to bomb Syria, but he said he has no intention of invading Syria.  Bombing will result in the deaths of some Syrians and some damage to Syria’s war-making capability, but it will not threaten the power of President Bashar al-Assad.  In fact it will strengthen his power, by turning the Syrian people and Arab people generally more against the United States than they already are.

What then can you about President Assad?  We don’t know his role, if any, in the gas attacks.  Maybe he ordered them.  Maybe his brother or some other element of the Syrian army ordered them.  Maybe a pro-government or anti-government militia carried them out.  Maybe the gas attacks were a deception operation by the Saudi or some other foreign government.

If there is proof that he ordered the nerve gas attacks, then we should bring a criminal case at the Hague.  There is a precedent for trying heads of state for crimes against humanity.  He could be tried in his absence.  Admittedly, Assad could not be brought to justice unless he was captured outside his country or his regime was overthrown, but these limitations are not nothing.  Of course all this is contingent on Assad actually being guilty of ordering the gassing of civilians, which at present is not at all certain.

What then can we do to help the Syrians?  Writer Charles Stross had a thought.

Nerve agents like Sarin aren’t black magic; they’re close relatives of organophosphate insecticides.  Medical treatments exist.  In particular there’s a gizmo called a NAAK, or Nerve Agent Antidote Kit. The drugs it relies on (neostigmine, atropine, and diazepam) are all more than fifty years old and dirt cheap; they won’t save someone who has inhaled a high lethal dose, but they’ll stabilize someone who’s been exposed, hopefully for long enough to get them decontaminated and rush them to a hospital for long-term treatment.  Mass Sarin attacks are survivable with prompt first aid and hospital support.

We should be distributing gas masks, field decontamination showers, NAAK kits, and medical resources to everyone in the conflict zones.  Government, civilian, rebels, it doesn’t matter.  By doing so we would be providing aid that was (a) life-saving (b) cheap, and (c) put a thumb on the side of the balance in favor of whoever isn’t using nerve gas. We’d also be breaking with the traditional pattern of western involvement in the region, which is to break shit and kill people, mostly innocent civilians who were trying to keep their heads down.  It wouldn’t fix our bloody-handed reputation, but it’d be a good start.

via Charlie’s Diary.

The other thing we Americans could do is to provide help and asylum for refugees, especially Christian refugees.  Syria, like Egypt, was a Christian country before it was a Muslim county, and still has a large Christian minority.  They will inevitably become the scapegoat for anything done by the supposedly Christian United States.

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